Plymouth Social Enterprise Network (PSEN) has today launched a Social Enterprise Strategy – a five-year plan to boost Plymouth’s social enterprises and help create a greener, fairer economy. The plan also aims to retain and build on Plymouth’s reputation as the UK’s leading social enterprise city.
PSEN Board Member, Gareth Hart, said: “We want to build upon our achievements so far, develop these and go into whole new areas such as technology and digital. Social enterprise seems to answer many of the questions being raised as people look towards a post-Covid society.
“This strategy is full of examples of Plymouth’s great social enterprises and shows how businesses can create value for communities and individuals, making our city and the wider world a better place to live and work in.”
The five priorities highlighted in the strategy are based on two years of consultation and development and are underpinned by the belief that a prosperous economy can also support a community, tackling deep-rooted social and environmental problems.
Plymouth became one of the UK’s first Social Enterprise Cities in 2013, recognizing the scope, depth, and activities of the social enterprise community in the city. Since then, there has been a significant international interest with people from Sweden, South Africa, Jamaica, Italy and others visiting Plymouth to find out more about our success. The five year plan will help to ensure that the city retains its place as the UK’s leading social enterprise city.
Gareth continued: “Social enterprise has become better understood and respected in Plymouth, but there is more to do. Social enterprises need more support, the general public need to be made more aware of what they can achieve and young people need to be inspired if we want a more compassionate, fairer, more diverse and more environmentally sustainable society.”
The strategy priorities include boosting business advice and access to finance for social enterprise; stimulating social entrepreneurship and start-ups; building more markets for social enterprises and developing more policy and advocacy work to promote social enterprise. The priorities will be reviewed regularly by PSEN and their partners to assess emerging themes and to make sure the strategy is still addressing the needs of local social enterprise.
The strategy will be launched on Monday 16th November as part of Plymouth’s Social Enterprise City Festival, which consists of over 20 online and in person events on the theme of ‘Educating the Economy.’
Download the strategy here
COVID-19 is showing us that a health issue can not only devastate the lives of those directly in the path of the virus, but can also close shops and high streets, force hundreds of thousands of businesses to struggle and place millions on furlough or out of work. Never has the fundamental link between health and the economy been more clearly underlined.
Yet there is little in the way of joined up public health and economic policy for the Government to draw on going forward. The economy is steered by policies such as Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economy Plan – which barely mentions health – and the UK’s industrial strategy, published in 2017, which has scant references to the importance of health as a component of the economy.
At a local level, opportunities to link health and the economy – to ensure a healthy, productive workforce – are being missed. Devon and Somerset’s Productivity Plan rarely discusses the health of the workforce, yet the local Clinical Commissioning Groups are co-signatories to the green paper behind this strategy. In comparison, Greater Manchester’s Local Industrial Strategy makes ‘population health’ an explicit aim and cites health over two hundred times.
Does this matter? You could see COVID-19 as an unusual event and argue it is not necessary to go to the lengths of rethinking the relationship between public health and the economy – we can simply develop a vaccine or learn to live with the virus and continue with our lives.
Well it matters because, where health and economic policy are joined up, the social and economic benefits are huge. For instance, mental health hugely affects productivity – how efficiently a business can create a profit. The Centre for Mental Health estimates that poor mental health in the UK workforce costs businesses almost £35 billion a year with an annual cost to the whole UK economy of nearly £100 billion a year. By far the largest share of this is not sick pay, but through employees who are at work but unwell and under-performing – this is known as ‘presenteeism’.
We could take Manchester’s lead and focus more on health and the economy. Mental health provision there is being pioneered as part of employment support. Imagine being unable to work effectively because of mental ill health but knowing that your employer and local authority understands and can offer tailored support.
There are wider economic issues which affect health. These include being in work or not, wage levels, contracts terms and conditions, lack of or low sick pay and other entitlements.
So how could we begin to tackle health and the economy? Government could incentivize health in the workforce through tax reliefs and also legislate to make employment law more health conscious. Local and national authorities could also unleash the power of the billions of pounds of public money they spend by insisting that firms they contract with adopt work-place wellbeing measures.
Employers could pay all staff a proper living wage as a minimum; ending in-work poverty and the ill-effects of inadequate housing and poor nutrition. Employers can aim to offer decent jobs with a sense of purpose and fulfilment, they can reduce zero-hours contracts and improve sick pay. These things are known to protect mental health and wellbeing. Businesses could develop more responsibility with a purpose to tackle social and environmental issues and do so with innovation and creativity.
Sound far-fetched? Well these businesses exist. They are called social enterprises – famous examples include The Eden Project and The Big Issue. These businesses thrive and trade ensuring that the health and wellbeing of their staff and their communities is part of their work. Their ethos is one where the health of everyone is as important as making a profit. Recent research in Plymouth shows that 94% of social enterprises there offer support around health and wellbeing for their staff.
COVID-19 has shown us that things need to change and that health and economic thinking need to become more connected. Social enterprises are twenty years down the track with this and the rest of the world needs to catch up. We need to build back better and understand more deeply that without health there is no economy.
By Lucy Blackley and Gareth Hart, Directors of Iridescent Ideas CIC
PSEN Coronavirus Response and Recovery FINAL
PSEN has published this plan to help us both respond to the immediate Coronavirus/Covid-19 crisis but also look forward to the recovery phase.
Our simple vision is that our members, social enterprises and indeed all businesses and community groups in the city emerge in a healthy position.
We know that this will be hard. We have had contact with a number of social enterprises that are struggling and some that have closed for the moment. We hope these re-open and recover in due course. We are also hearing of social enterprises that have moved online with relative ease and those that are providing a range of innovative services like Livewell Southwest, Nudge and Real Ideas Organisation.
Some of our key aims during this response phase are to:
- Facilitate the exchange of advice and business support for our members. We have our own resources here and we have worked with Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Octopus Project to create a dedicated page of information on the Council’s website.
- Gather information about the impact of Coronavirus/Covid-19 on our members and advocate for their needs to relevant organizations such as national and local government
- Work with and support SEUK and other social enterprise places on the national response. More information on that here.
More specifically, we have been proactively phoning our members to check in with them. We’ve not called everyone yet so if we’ve not spoken to you let us know. We’ve put our events schedule online. We’ve already held events on using Zoom and on HR advice for social enterprises. Another event lined up is on PR and digital marketing. Other events will be published soon.
We’ve also created a pool of business experts who can provide free business advice on topics such as: tech, Crowdfunding, PR, governance, investment, social impact, finance, team management. communications and more.
We are regularly updating our social media and news feeds with up to date sector news and information too.
We want a more pro-social, more inclusive and regenerative economy to emerge post-crisis. Social enterprises need to be at the heart of the recovery and embedded in economic and heath policy making. Without social enterprises a future economy that goes back to ‘business as usual’ will only compound inequalities and make recovery harder. We need a healthy workforce with decent, productive jobs that enhances, not damages, the environment. Social enterprises are delivering this as our recently published research proves.
We are in the early stages of developing the ‘recovery’ phase but our early ideas are to:
- Bring members together to collaboratively inform how we work together as a sector
- Advocate for a more pro-social, inclusive and regenerative economy through online events, blogs and content
- Work in solidarity with other social enterprise networks across the region and the country
- Advocate for social enterprises to be supported and firmly embedded in the recovery with economic policy makers such as Local Enterprise Partnership, City Council, Plymouth Growth Board, University of Plymouth and relevant others.
Please get in touch with us about your immediate needs and ideas for the future recovery.
Plymouth Social Enterprise Network has published research on the state of social enterprise in our great city. You can read a summary here and the full version here.
We know the power of research. Understanding the state of social enterprise in Plymouth in 2013 led to us becoming the UK’s first Social Enterprise City. That, in turn, led to millions of pounds worth of investment and business advice for our social enterprises.
Now, six years later, this report shows how that city badge and that investment has helped develop social enterprises in Plymouth. There are more of them. They employ more people. They work in the most disadvantaged areas and bring in more, much needed, income to the city’s communities.
This research shows that, as we rebuild our economy post Coronavirus/Covid-19, social enterprises need to be at the heart of the recovery and embedded in economic and heath policy making. Without social enterprises a future economy that goes back to ‘business as usual’ will only compound inequalities and make recovery harder. We need a healthy workforce with decent, productive jobs that enhances, not damages, the environment. Social enterprises are delivering this as the research proves.
There are some eye-opening findings, clues to the future economy we want and also some business needs for social enterprises that we need to address. For example, did you know that:
- Two of the five largest employers in Plymouth are social enterprises
- The social enterprise community has grown by 33% from 150 to around 200 businesses over the last six years
- Social enterprises employ over 9,000 people and spend nearly £600 million a year in our city’s economy
- Over half of leaders in social enterprises are women
- Nearly two thirds of our social enterprises pay the Real Living Wage to staff compared to a third of FTSE100 companies
- Nearly all our social enterprises offer support around employee well-being in the work-place
But more than just the statistics: this research shows us that a better way of doing business is not a work of fiction. It is real; right here and now in our great city. And it is growing.
We face serious social, economic and environmental problems in Plymouth and the wider world. Post Coronavirus/Covid-19 these problems will be in even more sharp focus. People and planet are not distinct from the economy, they are the economy. This report illustrates that social enterprises in all their forms, be they co-operatives, community businesses, community interest companies, trading charities and more, are creating a more compassionate, fairer, more diverse and more environmentally sustainable society through their work.
Thank you to all who contributed to this report: the researchers and writers, Transform Research Consulting. The funders, Power to Change. And to the social enterprises, members of Plymouth Social Enterprise Network, and others who took part and who demonstrate that you are making the city a better place though your fabulous work.
Let us press for ever more business with good cause in Plymouth in the coming years.
Happy New Year. I hope you had a great festive break. We are looking forward to an action packed 2020.We have lots of events, activities and announcements to make. All in good time. I wanted to briefly reflect on the last ten years at PSEN and, WOW, what a decade!
Social enterprise in Plymouth – in all its forms of co-operatives, community businesses, trading charities, community interest companies, etc – has advanced so much, in large part due to the dedication of people like you, our members and our partners like Plymouth City Council, POP+, Dartington SSE, Social Enterprise UK, Social Enterprise Mark, The Chamber of Commerce and the LEP to name but a few. What a collective of brilliant people and organizations. I think its fair to say Plymouth Social Enterprise Network has played a key role too.
I’m proud of what we’ve collectively achieved as a city since PSEN started in 2010:
1. First UK Social Enterprise City (first in world maybe!)
2. The UK’s best week-long social enterprise festival
3. A leading social enterprise place which people across the world look to (folk from Sweden, Italy, South Africa, The Netherlands, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Greece, Jamaica, Finland, Poland have all been here to find out more)
4. A seat on the Plymouth Growth Board – helping to keep social enterprise at the heart of economic policy making
5. The City Council’s pioneering Social Enterprise Investment Fund and Co-operative Development Fund.
6. Power to Change and Rank Foundation investment and support
7. School for Social Entrepreneurs running multiple programmes here
8. Specialist expert social enterprise business advice programmes secured
9. Climate emergency declared
10. Developing the inclusive economy work
11. Influencing policies for social value in procurement
12. Three universities inspired to embrace social enterprise as a model
13. One of the largest health and social care providers (Livewell) in the UK started here
These are just some of the highlights, I’ve probably missed many more. Thanks to all who have served on the PSEN board over the years to help achieve this.
Where will the next decade take us? We want social enterprise to be central to the way we do business in Plymouth; a leading place for social enterprise start-up and development; a place where social enterprise is thought of as a model of choice for new entrepreneurs. We are building on good foundations but there is much more to do. Our pressing issue is to develop a new social enterprise strategy for the city. Work on this is well underway and will build on the research into social enterprise in Plymouth conducted last year. We can only achieve all this with the support of our fabulous members. A network is nothing otherwise. Please join us if you haven’t already. I look forward to hearing from you.
There are two problems at the heart of Britain’s economy: that of driving fair, sustainable growth and that of boosting productivity. The focus has been, for too long, on the latter. We need a shift to investing in, buying from and supporting social enterprises.
We need an economy where businesses create decent work and the where the dividends of growth and prosperity are more equally shared. Check out your history books at the pages on Russia and France: if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer we can head, ultimately, into violent revolution.
The proceeds of growth are, too often, not shared fairly and this leaves many workers dispirited. Too many businesses are focused on minimising their tax bill, rather than contributing a fair share to fund public services. The largest social enterprises and co-operatives in the UK pay more in tax than Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Ebay and Starbucks combined.
Our local economic policy is fixated on productivity. It is a thorny problem: it takes us five days to produce something that Germans do in four. The reasons for this are vexed and no-one seems to be able to put their finger on what might be the problem and how to solve it.
We need a radical shift in the way we think about business and a move to a more socially enterprising economy. This is golden opportunity for the region to create productive, inclusive prosperity. Social enterprises not only create jobs and wealth, they do so more fairly and more innovatively than standard businesses and they also tackle social and environmental problems at the same time.
So, what are social enterprises? Simply put a social enterprise is a business with a good cause at its heart that dedicates its work and its profits towards achieving this good cause. My nine-year-old daughter described them as ‘businesses that help people’ which I thought pretty much nailed it. Nationally famous social enterprises include The Big Issue and Divine Chocolate. But did you know that there are social enterprise banks, book shops and bakeries? There are sport shops, florists, pharmaceutical companies and toilet paper makers. There are also gin, wine, whisky and beer producing social enterprises! Pretty much all sectors of the economy have a social enterprise in them somewhere. Although maybe not in the arms and tobacco industries.
Social enterprises can take many forms. They can be co-operatives, community businesses, trading charities, community interest companies or a myriad of other hybrid ethical structures. This can cause problems of definition but all are united by a common feature: that of using business to tackle social or environmental problems.
Here in the South West we are blessed with some world leading social enterprises. We have The Eden Project and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurant in Cornwall. The University of Plymouth was the world’s first accredited social enterprise university and Plymouth was the UK’s first ‘Social Enterprise City’ – a virtual brand that has led to over £6 million of investment into the city in the last three years. Livewell Southwest operates across large parts of Devon and is one of the largest health and social care social enterprises in the UK. Plymouth Energy Community, which raised over £3 million to put solar panels on schools and Plymouth’s Life Centre, has revolutionised the way we look at local energy generation, investment and community ownership.
Across Devon and Somerset there are well over a thousand social enterprises. Their combined turnover is £1.5 billion per year and they employ close to 33,000 people. That’s big – and small – business but, despite being a significant part of the economy that is better for all of us, it is still marginal in government policy making.
So back to why investing in social enterprise is an answer to solving the knotty problem of a fairer economy. Here are some killer facts. Social enterprises are more likely to innovate and are more profitable than standard businesses. Social enterprises are more likely to be led by women. They are starting up at a faster rate and are operating in the most disadvantaged parts of the region: where we most need businesses to work to create productive growth. Critically, social enterprises are also much more likely to pay more fairly: over three quarters of social enterprises report paying the living wage to their employees.
Social enterprise shows us that we can create a vision of a better world driven by business. And this is a pro-business and an unashamedly ‘for profit’ agenda. The more profit we make the more good things we can do with it.
It is social enterprises that are building the inclusive, prosperous, productive economy we need to rejuvenate our high streets, treat workers and pay women fairly and tackle deep rooted social and environmental issues.
Business can make us noble or be a tool for oppression and control. Increasing unfairness can lead to deep societal problems. We need to enhance and protect our environment whilst creating decent jobs. I think social enterprises can create solutions and offer an alternative, compelling vision. One based on business.
PSEN attended the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh last week. What an event! We’ll provide a fuller report of our experience and how the conference applies to Plymouth’s social enterprises at our network meeting on 25th September. A quick summary:
It was a fantastic, energising and stimulating week. Attended by over 1,400 people from nearly 50 different countries the event was a huge celebration of social enterprise alongside lots of politics, debate and discussion on many themes. It was chance to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. There was even some dancing at a Scottish ceilidh (less said about the attempts at this the better!)
We were able to share the work of many of our social enterprises in various events. We went to the launch of Callander as Scotland’s first social enterprise place. We also attended events on building strong networks; tech for good; marketing social enterprises; procurement and supply chain; the UN Sustainable Development Goals and more. Some salient points were:
1. There was an expressed need for more digital social enterprise businesses.
2. We need to create a compelling vision of a better future – one where social enterprise is the ‘norm’.
3. We need to engage with wider audiences (creatives, corporates, small businesses, public sector, schools, general population, etc) – we can’t just talk to ourselves.
4. The importance of political support – Scotland’s ministers seemed to really ‘get’ social enterprise and see it as integral to their economic strategies. This has led to investment and the development of a good ecosystem of support.
5. Getting large businesses to spend more with social enterprises – this will increase impact rather than putting money into CSR initiatives.
6. That social enterprise ‘structure’ and the ability to be held to account were seen as marginally more important than ‘impact’.
The most powerful moment was a brilliant talk by Bruktawit Tigabu of Whiz Kids in Ethiopia. The country struggles with low literacy and Bruktawit said that two thirds of young girls in the country think that domestic violence can be justified. A shocking statistic that illustrates why her work is so desperately needed. Ethiopia will host the 2019 Social Enterprise World Forum.
There was also a great talk by Lord Victor Adebowale, Chair of SEUK. He reminded us that as a sector we need to be more joined up. We need to make alliances in the social economy and with the private sector.
The SEWF reminded us that if we want to create a better future we need to lead or the future will be created for us. Social enterprises employ more women, people from Black and Minority Ethnic communities, young people. Social enterprises work in areas that need economic development. Social enterprises pay more fairly. We should be unashamed of this and we need to BE business. Not charity but business.
We need to talk about anarchism. Once you get past the often misleading, negative, bomb-chucking stereotypes of the proceeding centuries, many of the ideas contained within the, by definition, very broad church of anarchist thought are quite sensible. Indeed, in many cases emphasizing balance and moderation. They also have the potential to provide at least part of the answer to society’s infinitely complex growing list of challenges, from political disenfranchisement to growing inequalities, aging populations, environmental degradation and shrinking public services.
This was the AGM report for 2018, delivered by our Chair, Gareth Hart.
Our aims remain simple: we want to support our members work and raise awareness of social enterprise in Plymouth. We rely on membership fees and member engagement to do this. We think being a member of PSEN is excellent value for money and hope you will continue to be involved.
PSEN believes that social enterprise is a fundamental way to help Plymouth become a better city to live and work in. Imagine if every business in Plymouth were a social enterprise – it would transform the health and happiness of residents and workers in the city. This means a Plymouth where:
• Wealth is generated sustainably and stays here to improve the quality of life for all
• Everyone has access to meaningful work – work that they can see makes a difference to their community, the environment and the world
• Good ideas are generated and entrepreneurialism encouraged
• Social enterprise is central to the way we do business
• Social enterprises are able to thrive
• Social enterprise is understood and where people think of it as the model of choice when setting up a business
• Social enterprises have access to the very best business advice and investment
We want to see our economy grow in a way that creates these conditions, not hinders them. Developing business that has ethics at its core and exists to improve our social and natural environment (social enterprise) – rather than personal profit – is needed to make this happen.
What we’ve done in 2017-2018
Social Enterprise City continues to frame a lot of our discussions and work. In 2013 Plymouth became the UK’s first Social Enterprise City (part of the SEUK ‘places’ scheme). This has led to over £6 million of investment for social enterprises in the city, it has led to the Council developing better commissioning and procurement practices for social value, it has led to national organizations like Power to Change, Esmee Fairbairn and Rank Foundation wanting to come and invest in Plymouth. The Social Enterprise City brand has undoubtedly helped us achieve a huge amount on behalf of members but it is still a brand with more potential.
Over the last year, on behalf of our members PSEN has:
• Consulted and provided information to the LEP to create a more inclusive Productivity strategy
• Supported the delivery of the Enhance Social Enterprise programme for business advice
• Delivered another great Social Enterprise City Festival in November
• Secured national coverage for our members in the Guardian
• Co-delivered the Power to Change Empowering Places programme in the city
• Worked with the Rank Foundation to secure investment for Plymouth’s social enterprises
• Finished off our Social Enterprise for a Sustainable and Inclusive Economy programme – funded by Awards for All
• Worked strategically to ensure Inclusive Growth is a priority for Plymouth
• Delivered a number of events for Social Saturday
• Represented Plymouth social enterprises across the country – in Oxford, Sheffield, Salford and even internationally in Lithuania
• Developed a new logo and new website
Some facts and figures
• We now have about 70 members
• Collectively these social enterprises bring in around £555 million of income and employ around 7,500 people in the city.
• The sector is hugely diverse – you only have to look in the online directory.
• But we think there are nearly 200 social enterprises in the city – we need to find them and get them involved! If you know a social enterprise get them to join. Together we are stronger.
• Work with the new council
• Developing our proposition and a clearer offer – social enterprise includes coops, community businesses, mutuals, charities, CICs and more.
• We need more members
• Hold more regular meetings
• Conduct better member consultation
We’d like to thank everyone who served on the PSEN executive committee this year – without your largely voluntary efforts none of this would be possible. Thank you to Jess who tirelessly delivers our newsletter and all the social media work and more. Thanks to all our strategic partners – Plymouth City Council, Rank Foundation, Power to Change, SEUK, the other networks in the region and Devon County Council.
Also, thanks to you, the PSEN members – we only exist because of your great work. You are Social Enterprise City and without you we couldn’t achieve any of this.
Anyone who’s worked in the third sector for some time will well understand both the value and challenges of third sector infrastructure organisations. On the one hand, they have been critical to the success of the sector over the years; campaigning as the advocate and voice for the sector; levering vital resources and funding; providing for peer learning and affirmation; and delivering for the really practical, from work space to training, from business advice to marketing.
On the other hand, when they go wrong, wow, do they go wrong. Sometimes with a spectacular bang, but more often incrementally over time, in a barely discernible way, until they become as much the problem than the solution.
The root of these challenges tends to lie broadly in two places; firstly, the issue of business model and secondly, issues more associated with wider human motivation and nature. This is how things so often play out.
Adam Smith characterised business as a great act of human cooperation and all around us we see the explicit embodiment of this, for example in Chambers of Commerce and organisations such as the Federation of Small Business, these are well established and generally well regarded organisations operating largely on a traded membership model. In any given area, there are plenty of customers, often with the income to well afford an annual membership fee. But when it comes to the third sector (and this is the ‘sweat’ bit) the numbers are different – fewer customers and less disposable cash. Hence third sector infrastructure organisations serving a range voluntary and community groups and/or social enterprises, that rely wholly on membership fees often struggle – its hard work. Though some, particularly within the more business focused social enterprise sector do make it fly, the national Social Enterprise UK and Plymouth Social Enterprise Network, of which I am a director being two good examples – though none of us would claim that it’s easy.
It is for this reason – the challenges of making an independent business case stack up – that most third sector infrastructure organisations, historically at least, are in some way reliant of some form of service contract or grant funding.
There are many, possibly countless, examples of great infrastructure organisations across the country, that make a real difference to their members and subsequently the communities and beneficiaries they serve, but I bet you, we can all think ones that we view in a less favourable light (this is the ‘blood’ bit).
When fallings out and blood lettings occur around infrastructure organisations the origins are often associated with a perversion of incentives, driven by survival instinct and good old motives of money and power. The last two are more obvious so we’ll start there.
The episcopal high churches of old drew much of their power (and money) by being the link to, and, in practice, the barrier and gate keeper between the people and god. Similarly, within third sector infrastructure, this can translate to being the organisation between the members they support and policy, local and national government, in practice managing, if not controlling, the information and sometimes the money. It’s not hard to see that the incentive of working solely to support your members in this situation can, over time, begin to become perverse with the gaming of data and information and the top-slicing of funds – more one ring to rule them all, than one organisation to support them all.
The above is not hard to envisage, when budgets are tight and you need to survive. However, it is often when an infrastructure organisation establishes, with an initial healthy cash injection and they acquire a set of fixed costs – staff, offices, etc. that the root of the problem is seeded. These ongoing financial bottom lines can lead to incentives shifting from supporting members to the need to feed the beast. What has been seen (no names mentioned!) is that often on start-up, an infrastructure organisation wins, say a three-year contract to provide support services etc., and, as soon as any organisation or entity is created, being people driven, like all entities it wants to survive. What happens, in a cash strapped world, when grants and contracts dry up and income generation opportunities are limited? Something a whole lot more bloody – they start competing for work with their members – not just cannibalism, but infanticide.
Infrastructure organisations are both vital and desirable, and arguably should be properly funded, particularly in the case of more voluntary and community based organisations for the key public service they provide. But when, as we’re seeing, that is just not happening, how do we keep them from slipping into becoming the problem instead of continuing to provide solutions?
In the context of distinctly different social enterprise, and the now growing community business sector, something new is emerging.
For some time, social enterprises have become comfortable with the balancing act of holding the tension, and creating a synergy, between producing economic value (paying your way) and social return (having a positive impact on the world). Coming to terms with, in an honest way, this existential challenge – something for me and something for the world – has been one of the hallmarks of the social entrepreneur. Understanding the value of both cooperation and competition, or ‘cooperatition’ being a business and social purpose organisation has allowed for new thinking to develop.
The isolation of graphene – a new wonder substance – in 2004 and its subsequent journey into popular debate has provided some inspiration; what is learnt in science can so often inform society. Graphene is ultra-light, flexible and tough; it is flat, one atom thick, colourless and see through and; due to its structure – a hexagonal network of carbon atoms – it is also a great conductor of electricity. Isn’t this what we want from an infrastructure organisation: light touch, flexible and responsive; resilient, strong and non-hierarchical; transparent, well connected and highly networked?
Plymouth Social Enterprise Network (PSEN) aims to be a focal point for the social enterprise sector in the city. The network is a vibrant marketplace for exchanging information, ideas and expertise. It promotes enterprise, learning, collaboration and commercial opportunities for social businesses in Plymouth. It represents the interests of social enterprises and helps develop of the sector, everything you want from a sector infrastructure organisation.
To achieve this, form has followed function and now into its sixth year going from strength to strength, the network has managed to avoid many of the above pit-falls, in a large part due to what we call graphene management or graphene structure. Though graphene literally is rocket science, it isn’t when translated a management principle – but it is a bit different.
What this looks like in reality is a philosophical position, a legal structure supported by the right policies and a set of conventions and values.
PSEN is more a flat network between, than an umbrella organisation above. It is purely a sum of its members, recognised social enterprises trading within the Plymouth travel to work area, who annually directly elect a board from within its self to a core CIC structure. Coupled with a positive culture of ‘yes we can’ this has ensured that the network has remained non-hierarchical, grass-roots and hyper connected and networked with multiple access points.
Philosophically, being purely a sum of its members and for its members, PSEN only seeks to plug holes, never undertakes work that could be delivered by one of its members and this is further ensured by a convention of being asset free – having no fixed costs, no office, no staff. Having no set costs to meet every month, there are no internal incentives to potentially pervert and skew the mission – it can survive almost on thin air. This makes it flexible, resilient and responsive, it can be as quiet or as active as required in response to members or external needs.
This is not to say that the network does not take action, it led the successful bid that saw Plymouth recognised as the UK’s first Social Enterprise City. This is enabled via a set of policies, which help further lock-in this light touch, asset free approach. While the Network receives regular income via membership, this is topped up by sponsorship, contracted and commissioned work – running a festival, undertaking research, an events programme, international projects or acting in a strategic capacity for example. It is here that the dispersed nature of graphene really comes into its own. Through procurement policy and transparent practice all work, even key admin roles, are parcelled out to members as contracted, paid or freelance work. The staff are the members, the organisation is only the members, in practice there is no third-party organisation and no fixed overheads. There are no perverse incentives. Not an organisation, a genuine network and, if you spent much time in Plymouth you’ll know, increasingly a movement.
Ed Whitelaw is a director at Plymouth Social Enterprise Network and Head of Enterprise and Regeneration the south west rooted social enterprise group Real Ideas Organisation RIO.
Plymouth Social Enterprise Network believes that social enterprise is a fundamental way to help Plymouth become a better city to live and work in. This means a Plymouth where:
- Wealth is generated sustainably and stays here to improve the quality of life for all
- Everyone has access to meaningful work – work that they can see makes a difference to their community, the environment and the world
- Good ideas are generated and entrepreneurialism encouraged
We want to see our economy grow in a way that creates these conditions, not hinders them. Developing business that has ethics at its core and exists to improve our social and natural environment (social enterprise) – rather than personal profit – is needed to make this happen.
If you also share these ambitions for Plymouth, please join us. We can only achieve this by working together.
Not sure? Let us tell you more.
Plymouth’s historic dependency on the defence, manufacturing and construction industries has created challenges for the city. Plymouth was heavily impacted by the recession – losing, for example, 6,400 jobs between 2008 and 2010 (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014) – and despite many positive developments, Plymouth has been struggling to sustainably generate wealth; GVA has been around 84% of the UK average for many years. (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014) Where wealth is created, it is distributed unevenly across people and areas. For example, in Peverell, Widewell or Compton only 5 – 10% of families are on low incomes; in Devonport, St Peters and the Waterfront or Ham this is 43%. (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014)
Unlike traditional businesses – social enterprises by nature generate wealth that is used to improve conditions in the city. Moments Cafe, for example, uses its profits to support people living with dementia. Bikespace uses income from bike repairs and other services to train young people struggling with mainstream education as bicycle mechanics. Plymouth Credit Union offers financial services including savings, affordable loans and budget accounts including for people who have been excluded from traditional services.
Social enterprises in Plymouth are growing in size and their contribution to wealth generation: they currently bring in an income of £500 – £600 million.(Plymouth Social Enterprise Network Survey) We want to see this continue to rise so that wealth can stay in Plymouth and benefit all.
A strong and content society goes far beyond income. We see wellbeing as critical to a better city, and meaningful work can contribute significantly to our wellbeing. “When the work is perceived as meaningful, people have a sense of fulfilment and purpose that provides a psychological sense of well-being. The experience of meaningful work and well-being then spills over into the other life arenas and contributes to the overall sense of an individual’s life purpose.”(Meaningful Work and Wellbeing by J. Lee Whittington) We want to see work for Plymouth citizens that is meaningful for them and wider society.
Social enterprises are businesses that exist to make a positive impact on others; they provide work that has meaning and purpose to employees. Social enterprises are also more likely to offer fair pay, involve their staff in decision-making and employ people from specific vulnerable groups. (The Future of Business: State of Social Enterprise Survey 2017 by Social Enterprise UK)
According to their employees, PSEN member social enterprise Real Ideas Organisation provides a “strong sense of ownership and democracy” to its team because “everybody gets a say”; team members say that working for RIO is “incredibly purposeful”. (Real Ideas Organisation website)
Social enterprises currently employ over 7,000 people in Plymouth and we want to see this grow.
“Due to the domination of Plymouth’s historically large employers, both the culture and infrastructure for entrepreneurs lags behind many other cities”. Plymouth has historically had a low business start-up rate (e.g. 60% of the England average in 2011), but entrepreneurialism is on the rise. (The Plymouth Fairness Commission Final Report March 2014)
When it comes to community and social enterprise, visitors to Plymouth note the buzz in the city. Social Enterprise UK’s State of Social Enterprise Survey 2017 states that “Plymouth is now garnering global acclaim…as a leading place for social enterprise”.(The Future of Business: State of Social Enterprise Survey 2017 by Social Enterprise UK) PSEN’s successful bid to make Plymouth
the UK’s first Social Enterprise City in 2013 had a key role in this, attracting investment (such as Plymouth Council’s £2.5 million Plymouth Social Enterprise Investment Fund) and interest into Plymouth, where good ideas are abundant and social entrepreneurialism continues to grow.
For example, in early 2018 PSEN member Street Factory CIC crowdfunded nearly £50K to bring the UK’s first Hip Hop Theatre to Plymouth. The Entrepreneur Inside programme supported its first cohort of prisoners to build their own entrepreneurial business plans for their release. Nudge Community Builders has bought a disused pub in Stonehouse and is renovating the building to create two homes to meet local need and a mini market area on the ground floor.
We believe that if every business in Plymouth were a social enterprise it would transform the health and happiness of residents and workers in the city.
If you’d like to start a social enterprise, find out about support available here.
I attended the Plymouth Growth Board on Monday. The highlight for me was a presentation by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) about the Productivity Plan for Devon and Somerset. As you know we submitted a response on behalf of Plymouth’s social enterprises. The LEP welcomed our submission and also suggested that whilst there is a need to boost productivity it cannot be at any cost. They seemed receptive to the idea we submitted about ‘good growth’. Positive news there but we need to keep bringing this up wherever, whenever we can. We need an alliance of social enterprises, Transition movements, ecological economists, Coops, Fair Trade organizations and more to keep making the case for the economy and society we want. Plymouth City Council’s response also referenced Social Enterprise City and inclusive growth.
The main focus of the meeting was on skills. How do we ensure we get the best, most skilled workforces to help us develop and grow our businesses and improve the economy of Plymouth? There was a focus on Plymouth’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) strategy. The Plymouth Skills Analysis is being refreshed – make sure you contribute to this when the opportunity arrives. Tell us what skills and what workforce you need to succeed as a social enterprise. Also, it was apparent that continuing to develop pathways for people into work they want is crucial to increase social mobility and opportunity.
Professor Jerry Richards gave a good overview of the economic impact of Plymouth University – one of PSEN’s members and the first social enterprise university in the world. £300 million is spent by students in Plymouth each year and the university’s annual wage bill is £150 million. Thousands of jobs in the city are directly and indirectly reliant on the university. How the university stays competitive in the context of Brexit was also discussed. The danger is that Plymouth becomes a less attractive place to study and loses EU research cash. The need for cleverness, ingenuity and partnerships in response to this is obvious. The national government’s industrial strategy promises £4.7 billion for science, research and innovation. A great opportunity and we need to make sure Plymouth is in the mix for this.
You can contribute to the government’s industrial plan by clicking here. Social Enterprise UK is leading a national response which PSEN will contribute to on behalf of our members. Tell us what you think should be the priorities. Book onto the national events in early April run by SEUK on skills (Stoke) and on procurement (London).
Finally, I found out that Plymouth is one of the ‘Top 20 Coolest Places to Live’ according to the Times newspaper. Cool – but we already knew that right?
Gareth Hart is Chair of Plymouth Social Enterprise Networkand a Director of Iridescent Ideas CIC
It’s no secret that there are plenty of things wrong with the economy. Inequality of wealth and income and dependence on fossil fuels to create economic growth are my top two concerns, but there are many others, held by people much more mainstream and well-informed than me.
The OECD defines Inclusive Growth as growth that creates opportunity for all segments of the population and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity fairly across society. “Inclusive Growth” has become the thing to call for with statements from the World Economic Forum and the 2016 G20 meeting in Hangzhou. But, for many of us, these look like suspiciously like add-ons to a business-as-usual narrative.
As a director of PSEN, I believe that social enterprises create a better economy. Social enterprises are businesses which trade for a social or environmental purpose. Their profits are reinvested for that purpose. Like all businesses, social enterprises find opportunities to create value, they develop and sell products and services, employ people, make a profit, pay tax. But they differ from private businesses in two important ways. Firstly, the value they seek to create is more broadly defined than private businesses and includes social and environmental value alongside economic value. Secondly, and this is the real difference between private and social enterprise, is that private enterprise creates value in order to capture it for owners and shareholders. For example, of the £2bn allocated to social care in the March 2017 budget, £115M will go to private investors. Social enterprise creates social, environmental and economic value for the benefit of the community as a whole. It is for this reason that we think social enterprise is a radical alternative to traditional business and an important ingredient of a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
There are also hundreds of people, organisations and initiatives who are not involved with social enterprise, or who wouldn’t use that label, but who are also working toward a more sustainable and inclusive economy. These include local currencies, time banks, local food networks, community renewable projects, transition towns, worker co-ops, community businesses, socially engaged artists, digital inclusion and open data initiatives, social justice, fair trade and environmental campaigners, proponents of participatory democracy, you can probably think of plenty more.
These grassroots initiatives are supported by research from heavyweights such as the New Economics Foundation which has been developing policy recommendations since 1986, and the RSA whose work on the economy, enterprise and manufacturing includes the Inclusive Growth Commission and the Citizens Economic Council. The Transition Town movement which champions a community-led transition to a low carbon economy celebrated its 10th birthday this year and, more locally, the annual convergence of the Devon New Economy Forum has become a regular event. Good ideas have gained traction: wellbeing indicators are now part of the Annual Population Survey in the UK, providing a baseline against which initiatives can be evaluated. Universal Basic Income pilots in Scotland and Finland build on others around the world. The first local bank in the UK, the Greater London Mutual is due to open soon with a South West bank to follow. Cornwall LEP has put “inclusive growth” at the heart of its economic strategy. In Plymouth, academics, city and regional economic leaders are taking an interest in purpose-driven business. PSEN representatives chair the Plymouth City Council Inclusive Growth flagship and we have submitted our Good Growth plan to the Local Enterprise Partnership and the national government’s industrial strategy.
Over the next twelve months PSEN, will be holding a series of events to highlight some of the important themes around creating a more sustainable and inclusive economy. This will help explain the role that social enterprises can play and develop relationships with others who are working toward the same thing. The aim is to join forces to work more effectively together and see where the gaps are.
The events planned will focus on demystifying and democratising economics, rethinking the relationship between work and money, moving towards a more ecologically sustainable economy and exploring some of the ways in which open data can facilitate the transition.
In addition to the events I’d like to facilitate a conversation on social media and in pubs and cafes about what a more sustainable and inclusive economy will look like. If you would like to be involved, get in touch.
The first two events are now live…
Rethinking Work and Income, held in collaboration with RSA, will be on 20th June. For more information and bookings, please follow the link below:
Link to event: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rsa-sw-rethinking-work-and-income-tickets-34825500008?ref=ebtn
An Economy that Works for Everyone? is on 6th July, again in collaboration with the RSA. Information and bookings at: https://aneconomythatworksforeveryone.eventbrite.co.uk
The Social Enterprise for an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy project has been supported by a Big Lottery Fund Awards for All grant.
We welcomed a full house of local members to our AGM on Monday as well as speakers from across the UK, Europe and from as far away as Brazil. There was an unanimous re-election of the Executive board and Ian Smith from Food Plymouth joined as a director. Our keynote presentation from Manda Brookman of Coast:One Planet Tourism was inspiring and informative, you can download a copy of the presentation here. We also heard from Salford University, City College Plymouth, Power to Change and Exeter University. You can read the minutes and notes here.